Sunday, October 25, 2009

Facing Failure

"Failure" is not a pretty word. We like to use euphemisms such as "crash and burn" and "learning experience." However, not getting selected for a job, promotion, or assignment can feel like failure. Divorce feels like failure. Being told by the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) that they do see in you a minister (a #4 rating) feels like failure.

And failures have consequences. Sometimes we never try again. Other times we dust ourselves off and get back into the fray.

Rev. Robert Fulghum, UU minister and Starr King School for the Ministry graduate, wrote that he walked into a kindergarten class and asked the children who could draw, sing, and dance. All the kids raised their hands. Then he walked into an 5th grade class and asked the same questions. This time only a few of the students responded to each question. They'd already learned to define themselves by their failures.

I was very lucky that one of my greatest failures--not getting selected for a promotion--seemed so unjust to me that I was more mystified than angry. Of course, anger, denial, bargaining, fear, depression, and sorrow all appeared before acceptance arrived.

My father taught me that experts and libraries were the sources of solutions to problems and questions. Luckily, I'd also learned that speaking to nearly everyone you know is sometimes a better solution, or at least a good supplement.

I spoke to my boss, my boss's boss, my boss's boss's boss, my boss's boss's boss's boss, other leaders, peers, friends, family; in short, pretty much the waterfront. I learned more about what people thought of me. I asked the leaders whether they thought I had potential for advancement and whether there was anything I should be doing differently.

After much reassurance, I came to acceptance. Within two years I was promoted to an equivalent position that was better suited to my talents.

Hiding in shame--though very, very tempting--no longer seems to be good strategy. We see wounded animals do so because they are afraid that predators will take advantage of their injuries to kill them. Do you believe that those around you are that predatory? If not, seek their help.

On the road to ministry, you'll have to make your own assessments. Many decide that ministry is not for them. However, if you fall and then decide to dust yourself off and get back on the road, do consider consulting with as many people as possible. It's a grand strategy for facing failure, building relationships, and achieving success.

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